By Brandon Pollachek, PEO IEW&S PAOSeptember 11, 2017
When the Army required the ability to generate an extra aerial intelligence surveillance reconnaissance mission a day for a short timeframe, Project Manager Sensors Aerial Intelligence (PM SAI) jumped in and ensured they could support the ramped up mission.
Three years later that short timeframe has become the norm and PM SAI is consistently averaging 5,000 flight hours a month for their deployed aircraft, which have been instrumental in providing key mission planning and mission over watch for multiple combatant commands.
The platforms utilized to support these critical requirements are a combination of Program of Record and Quick Reaction Capability systems. Utilizing either King Air 300 or 350 extended range aircraft, PM SAI provides Soldiers with a multitude of sensor options ranging from high definition cameras to those that can collect on signals of interest.
"In general we support planning for missions as well as the actual missions themselves," said Ronald "Boomer" Rizzo, Deputy Product Manager for Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance Systems. "When a unit says we think there is something going on in a particular area- our assets will go and take a look and provide advanced reconnaissance prior to mission."
Rizzo laid out what a typical day now consists of for the aircrew and support personnel that fly three missions a day. "When you plan for the first mission of the day the crew shows up about an hour beforehand, they run though pre-flight material. At the same time the aircraft is being fueled and going through its aviation checks for safety. The crew will arrive and fly for a 4- 4 1/2 hour mission. They land and the PME and aviation side swarm the aircraft, they talk to the pilots to find out if there are any anomalies and ensure everything checks out alright. They check-in with the operators on the back of the aircraft and ask if they had any issues, was the FMV (Full-Motion Video) clear, did everything work as expected, etc. If there are any issues the Field Support Representative would jump on board and replace or repair an issue to get ready for the next mission. Next mission takes off, and they do this three times a day."
The fast paced daily routine has been essential for each aircraft to spend approximately 15 hours a day in the air. The ability to provide ISR coverage for such an extended period of time is no easy task and it takes a great deal of experience and efficient processes. "Having the professional team that we have had out there for years and years is really what does the job," noted Rizzo.
Aircraft involved include:
Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VaDER)
VaDER utilizes a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to produce high resolution imagery that can be used for change detection. The system has the ability to operate through clouds and offers a moving target indicator. "VaDER performs pattern of life, which allows units to see who is coming and going. During a mission you can monitor your AoR (Area of Responsibility) to identify who is flooding in and who is flooding out. It is a Swiss Army knife of platforms," said Rizzo.
Basic change detection consists of flying one day along a route and then again fly over that same route at a different time and see what happened. "You can see if a road was washed out from a flood or what changed due to weather. You can also see if somebody dug a hole in the ground (which supports convoy planning and supports counter-improvised explosive device taskings)," added Rizzo.
Constant Hawk (CH)
CH primarily supports the planning phase of operations as it offers wide area surveillance of an area or compound that ground forces interested in. Results allow for a greater understanding and answers key questions for ground forces to include knowing who is coming and going, how many people are involved, are there certain days of the week when more come than others.
Tactical Operations (TaCOPS)
TaCOPS are primarily used for mission planning. "The system provides terrain elevations that can be used for a myriad of planning scenarios. For example if you would like to land a helicopter it can tell if there are wires overhanging," noted Rizzo. "If you are looking at a compound it can tell you how big walls are as well as identify lines of site so if a convoy is going through an urban area it can point out a potential ambush area."
Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System (MARSS)
MARSS is used for real-time mission support as it provides mission overwatch. The system is capable of providing electro optic/infrared (EO/IR) imagery to the tactical ground commander. Shared imagery offers a clear and immediate understanding of the environment a Solider is operating in.
A secondary benefit in addition to supporting current missions is the sheer volume of lessons learned flying a multitude of systems. These lessons learned are being applied to the next generation of Army ISR systems, the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System (EMARSS). "With EMARSS the name of the game is to build on the success of the QRCs," said Rizzo. "EMARSS takes what works with the QRC and brings them all under a common infrastructure that includes the radios they use to talk to the ground, the beyond line of sight data we use to get back to units at home station and common workstations," said Rizzo.